Another big weekend awaits Timbers, Thorns
It's another big weekend at Providence Park for Portland's soccer teams.
The Timbers have a chance to build momentum with Saturday's noon match against the LA Galaxy.
The Thorns have another shot to strike fear into the rest of the National Women's Soccer League when they entertain their rivals from Puget Sound, OL Reign at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Both teams saw young players produce big moments last weekend.
For the injury-riddled Timbers, midfielder Eryk Williamson and goalkeeper Logan Ketterer starred in a much-needed 2-0 win at San Jose.
Having five days to prepare (well, three for Ketterer, who arrived in Portland around midnight Tuesday, May 11) breathed some life into the Timbers. Despite missing nine players to injuries, Portland started fast and had a spring in its step that was lacking at the end of the brutal grind of eight matches in 33 days.
When one of those injured players is Diego Chara, it usually spells trouble for Portland. But Williamson's play, with support from those behind and next to him, allowed Portland to score an unlikely triumph. The assists were both timely and nice, particularly the pass that set up Yimmi Chara's classy chip in the fifth minute. But Williamson's contribution to the win at San Jose was a whole lot more than two assists.
On multiple occasions, his footwork under pressure got Portland out of potentially dangerous moments.
Williamson was asked to play from a deeper, more defensive position on the field in Diego Chara's absence. Coach Giovanni Savarese praised the midfielder's performance and described it as evidence of the maturity the 23-year-old has gained since earning a regular starting spot during the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament.
"All around, Eryk had a great game," Savarese said. "Defending, covering spaces, winning balls, allowing us to be able to come out in some moments away from their pressure, and create opportunities going forward, and getting in good spots to deliver good balls."
A performance like that has the added benefit of instilling belief that the Timbers can win without the older Chara cleaning things up in midfield — something the team has traditionally struggled to accomplish when Diego Chara is absent.
Another player who showed maturity was Ketterer. Acquired on loan from the El Paso Locomotive because Portland was down three goalkeepers, Ketterer performed like a veteran in his first MLS appearance. His save on Chris Wondolowski's penalty kick pretty much won the game for the Timbers and certainly will help him earn the respect of the teammates whose names he's just learning.
A 27-year-old who spent two seasons as a backup keeper in Columbus, Ketterer got the call to come to Portland after Jeff Attinella suffered a season-ending injury in the May 9 loss to Seattle — leaving Portland with 19-year-old Hunter Sulte as its only healthy keeper. Ketterer displayed a calm confidence and said he settled in after making a basket catch on an early San Jose corner kick.
Of the diving stop to deny Wondolowski's penalty, Ketterer said there is little pressure in those situations.
"The most important thing to think about as a goalkeeper is that you're not expected to make the save so there's really nothing that can go wrong," Ketterer said. "All you can do is push as hard as you can and make sure you don't go off the line early. It was a great moment for me."
While the Timbers push through their injury challenges, the Thorns are putting a hurt on the rest of the NWSL.
A week after winning the Challenge Cup in dramatic fashion, Portland put its season opener away by scoring four goals in the first half hour of a 5-0 win over visiting Chicago on Sunday, May 16. It was quite the performance, and the Thorns five goals were two more than the three goals scored across the other four NWSL season openers.
Sophia Smith starred by scoring two goals, plus delivering the ball that opened the scoring. She kept the Red Stars guessing with her movement off the ball.
It was that movement and positioning without the ball, Thorns coach Mark Parsons said, that told him Smith was due for a breakout game despite missing the target a few times in the Challenge Cup final.
"I definitely think I just needed that first one to really get going and have those gates open for me, and just get that confidence back in front of the goal doing things that I know how to do," Smith said. "So, just finally getting that first one feels so good."
Smith's first goal will go down as one of the best goals of the season. Goalkeeper Adrianna Franch dove to catch a threatening Chicago cross, sprung to her feet and punted the ball. Morgan Weaver got to the ball on one bounce and sent a one-touch ball to her left that Smith turned into a goal with a deft right-foot-to-left-foot maneuver.
The top two picks in the 2020 NWSL draft, Smith and Weaver, have not played together much, but demonstrated chemistry on Sunday. Each predicted the chemistry will only get stronger between all of the forwards. The battle for playing time and the forward combinations among Smith, Weaver, Simone Charley and Tyler Lussi should be fun to watch, and a problem for opponents.
"All the forwards, we all play really well together," Smith said. "We all know where each other is going to be, and how to read each other, and it's just a matter of time before it gets even better."
Parsons' future — The Thorns' dynamic win came days after news broke that Parsons will leave Portland after the 2021 season to coach the women's national team for the Netherlands. As of this writing, that move had not been officially announced, and Parsons' last week declined to comment, saying only: "Nothing is finalized with regards to my future in 2022. Until that changes, I'm not going to be willing to talk about it."
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